An Honest Conversation That Cannot Be Avoided

LynchingToday, RadicalDiscipleship.net celebrates the grand opening of Equal Justice Initiative‘s National Memorial and Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. It is a six-acre site overlooking the Alabama State Capitol, dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy. Below is a re-post of EJI’s recent release Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.

During the period between the Civil War and World War II, thousands of African Americans were lynched in the United States. Lynchings were violent and public acts of torture that traumatized black people throughout the country and were largely tolerated by state and federal officials. These lynchings were terrorism. “Terror lynchings” peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed the lives of African American men, women, and children who were forced to endure the fear, humiliation, and barbarity of this widespread phenomenon unaided.

Lynching profoundly impacted race relations in this country and shaped the geographic, political, social, and economic conditions of African Americans in ways that are still evident today. Terror lynchings fueled the mass migration of millions of black people from the South into urban ghettos in the North and West throughout the first half of the twentieth century. Lynching created a fearful environment where racial subordination and segregation was maintained with limited resistance for decades. Most critically, lynching reinforced a legacy of racial inequality that has never been adequately addressed in America. The administration of criminal justice in particular is tangled with the history of lynching in profound and important ways that continue to contaminate the integrity and fairness of the justice system.

This report begins a necessary conversation to confront the injustice, inequality, anguish, and suffering that racial terror and violence created. The history of terror lynching complicates contemporary issues of race, punishment, crime, and justice. Mass incarceration, excessive penal punishment, disproportionate sentencing of racial minorities, and police abuse of people of color reveal problems in American society that were framed in the terror era. The narrative of racial difference that lynching dramatized continues to haunt us. Avoiding honest conversation about this history has undermined our ability to build a nation where racial justice can be achieved.

In America, there is a legacy of racial inequality shaped by the enslavement of millions of black people. The era of slavery was followed by decades of terrorism and racial subordination most dramatically evidenced by lynching. The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s challenged the legality of many of the most racist practices and structures that sustained racial subordination but the movement was not followed by a continued commitment to truth and reconciliation.

Consequently, this legacy of racial inequality has persisted, leaving us vulnerable to a range of problems that continue to reveal racial disparities and injustice. EJI believes it is essential that we begin to discuss our history of racial injustice more soberly and to understand the implications of our past in addressing the challenges of the present.

Lynching in America is the second in a series of reports that examines the trajectory of American history from slavery to mass incarceration. In 2013, EJI published Slavery in America, which documents the slavery era and its continuing legacy, and erected three public markers in Montgomery, Alabama, to change the visual landscape of a city and state that has romanticized the mid-nineteenth century and ignored the devastation and horror created by racialized slavery and the slave trade.

To read the entire report, click HERE.

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